October 20th, 2012 / posted by paularath

LK Atelier “Oahu” pendant comes in 14k gold (as shown) and  sterling silver. Exclusive to Riches Kahala. Photos courtesy of LK Atelier.

Leela Bilmes Goldstein is one of those beautiful, understated, elegant, chic women it’s always a pleasure to see. I first met her at Punahou, where she was organizing the Alumni Art Show to which I was delivering paintings. I then ran into her around town, as we all do in Honolulu. I always had to check out what she was wearing from head to toe. So when I got a call from Lo Kaimuloa, owner of Riches Kahala, that she had just brought in a new line of jewelry that was designed by Leela, I have to say I was not surprised – just pleased that she had found herself a place in the world of fashion.

Leela Bilmes Goldstein, designer of LK Atelier.

Leela’s line is called LK Atelier. It consists of two very different collections: the City Collection and the Beach Collection. Riches carries the City Collection, a sophisticated, sleek and chic line of silver and pearl earrings, bracelets and necklaces.

LK Atelier’s design aesthetic? Think Georg Jensen and Elsa Peretti. Yet the prices are surprising affordable, ranging from $25 to $500.

LK Atelier’s “Ili’ili” earrings and necklace with pearl.

A BIT OF BIO

A little about Leela, whose background is anything but ordinary. She was born in Thailand and raised in Honolulu. An avid student of languages, she received a PhD in linguistics at U.C. Berkeley, with an emphasis in Thai language and cultural expression, as well as French. She lived in Paris for a while which of course helped refine her personal style in both fashion and art.

Leela’s mother is the great granddaughter of King Mongkut of Siam, who was portrayed in the Broadway musical ‘The King and I.” Leela has dual citizenship, holding passports for both Thailand and the U.S. She maintains close ties with her Thai relatives and travels there often. Her appreciation of the Thai traditions of jewelry artistry and craftsmanship led her to have her City Collection hand made by Thai artisans in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Leela’s exotic background has helped her seamlessly blend the East, West and Polynesia in her eclectic designs.

The “Orbit” bracelets and bangles are a modern adaptation of a traditional Thai style.

GETTING STARTED

So how did a linguist who was working on special events at Punahou become a jewelry designer?

Like many local designers, it began as a hobby. Leela took a few classes at Bead It! in Kaimuki and made too many pieces to keep all to herself. She showed her first design, the “Disco Earrings,” in the Punahou Alumni Art Show. Artist Russell Lowrey, another Punahou grad, admired the earrings and told Leela, “You should do this.” Then well-known Honolulu jewelry designer Leighton Lam bought some earrings for his wife, Lani.

“I was so flattered,” that Russell would admire her work and Leighton would buy it, that Leela started seriously thinking about a business. That was 2009.

In 2010, Leela took the leap, leaving her job at Punahou and launching LK Atelier. “The pressure was on,” she said with a roll of her eyes. On one of her family visits to Bangkok, she began seriously looking at Thai jewelry. “I saw a lot of things I liked and I tweaked them,” she said. “I asked myself, ‘Would I wear it?’ And if not, what would it take to make it something I would wear?” Staying true to her own style, the City Collection was created for a woman Leela describes as “sophisticated, bold, confident and intelligent.”

Stylists and celebrities in the Latina market have discovered LK Atelier and it’s starting to appear in magazines. Celeb Vanessa Nacif appeared in Hola magazine with her husband, double Latin Grammy nominee Aureo Baqueiro, and her son, wearing Leela’s “Ice” earrings and bracelet.

Vanessa Nacif and family in “Hola” magazine. She’s wearing LK Atelier’s “Ice” collection.

A bangle and necklace from the “Bamboo” collection.

THE BEACH LINE

Leela’s Punahou classmate, musician Jacques Leokane Pryor , has a passion for collecting shells on the beaches of Hana where he lives. He has boxes and boxes of shells and beach glass. He began sending Leela pretty little shells, which inspired her beach collection. In return for the shells, she donates to the Hana Trash Club, a group that collects trash from Hana beaches and encourages sustainable practices on Maui.

“Hana Hoops” from the Beach Collection.

The Beach Collection is all made by hand by Leela and is sold exclusively in Hawaii at Rebecca Beach in the Kahala Hotel and Resort.

– Paula Rath

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